This test isn’t all-inclusive. We attempted to obtain a sample from every known manufacturer. In the end, we were provided with more than $40,000 in optics for a comprehensive roundup that’s never been attempted by another hunting or shooting publication.
To keep a level playing field, this test was designed to compare spotting scopes that featured 80mm or larger objectives and an angled eyepiece. A number of well-regarded brands were left out for not meeting these requirements, which left us with the 14 contenders you will find discussed in this gallery.
For neutrality while performing this evaluation, we set out to provide the consumer with a measureable guide. A spotting scope can be a once-in-a-lifetime investment for many, so making an informed decision before the point of sale is critical.
The specific features of each spotting scope such as country of origin, eyepiece magnification range, objective diameter, length, weight, exit pupil, eye relief, and field of view were not taken into consideration to determine the final score since each of these details can be subject to a user’s preference. Instead, we analyzed perceived qualities like color fringing, edge sharpness, usable magnification, and resolution, which can be more difficult for the consumer to quantify.
As we discovered, what you can afford does not necessarily meet the needs of quality or value you may seek. Therefore, this test included two respected optic resolution tests as a measurable and repeatable control. A MIL-STD optics resolution test chart (1951 USAF) and an industrial magnification range test were used as scientific controls in determining the quality of detail provided by each scope. Each of these tested the resolving power against groups of horizontal and vertical bars. The smallest bars the imager can discern is the limitation of its resolving power.
Rather than attempt to describe in infinitesimal detail each optic, we will introduce each with a brief synopsis followed by our sincere appraisal. Here’s the best spotting scopes of 2013.
- This scope features top-of-the-line BaK4 prisms and fully multi-coated lenses for high light transmission. An O-ring sealed and nitrogen-filled body offers waterproof and fogproof integrity. The 853 ED HD comes with a 20X to 60X EP. Though it’s detachable, no other EPs are available.
You can’t argue with Alpen's no-fault, no problem lifetime warranty. This spotter is virtually the same scope as the Bushnell Elite we tested and very similar to the Pentax. We like Bushnell’s aesthetics better. With the Alpen, there’s some gritty feel when adjusting the power ring, but the eyecup is nice with three tactile positions. Peering through the glass provided a bright and clear image that blurred toward the outer 30 percent with a bit of color fringing. Resolution seems crisper than Bushnell.
We recommend that Alpen incorporate a fine-tuning focus wheel and a less chintzy appearance on future models. The Rainier is not an heirloom-quality scope, but rather a no-frills optic with intuitive controls that is pleasant to use through the low power ranges. When compared to the Bushnell Elite, your purchase decision should come down to price. Cheapest wins.